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International signees bring big bats in 2011

| Friday, Sept. 23, 2011

The Pirates' four drafts under the current management have done plenty pitching, not nearly as much for the hitting.

Good thing, then, that the international amateur pipeline is making up for it.

Four of the system's top five hitters for average in 2011 were signed by Latin American scouting director Rene Gayo and his staff: Center fielder Starling Marte batted .332 for Class AA Altoona and led the Eastern League in hits. Catcher Ramon Cabrera batted .343 and third baseman Elevys Gonzalez .322 for high Class A Bradenton. And outfielder Jose Osuna batted .328 for short-season State College and rookie-level Bradenton.

Total cost: $470,000.

Osuna had the most expensive bonus at $250,000, followed by Cabrera at $100,000, Marte at $85,000 and Gonzalez at $35,000.

"We're proud of all these guys, and we look forward to seeing all of them make it to Pittsburgh and help the Pirates win," Gayo said. "That's what we're all about."

Marte long has been rated among the Pirates' top prospects, but the rest emerged this summer.

Cabrera, 22, is a pudgy 5-foot-7, 250 pounds, but the Pirates have been pleased with his consistent approach, as well as his defense.

Gonzalez, 22, has steadily improved since coming to North America with a wiry build in 2009. His extra-base hits increase from 19 last season to 48 this season.

Osuna, 19, earned a late-season promotion in part because 22 of his 61 hits went for extra bases.

On the way

Prospects you might see in the majors next year:

OF Gorkys Hernandez — Defensive skills are at an elite level

1B Matt Hague — Nearly got a callup this year

LHP Jeff Locke — September starts show he still needs polish

RHP Brad Lincoln — Could be a make-or-break year for him

LHP Justin Wilson — Velocity jumped to 94-96 mph in bullpen role at Triple-A

Moving up

Players who gained speed moving through the system:

OF Starling Marte — Almost certainly will begin 2012 at Triple-A

C Eric Fryer — Will begin 2012 as the starter at Indy

RHP Kyle McPherson — Continued progress after jump to Double-A

C Ramon Cabrera — Hit .343 in 92 games in first year at High-A

OF Robbie Grossman — Drew 100 walks, scored 100 runs at High-A

Upgrades needed

Where the team is hurting at the major league level:

Catcher — Weak free-agent crop means no help in sight

Starting rotation — Too little depth at upper levels of minors

Power — More needed even if Pedro Alvarez finds his form

Setup reliever — A healthy Evan Meek would do it

Approach at the plate — Too many strikeouts and wasted at-bats

Digits of distinction: Good and bad

1,259 — Strikeouts (through Wednesday) by Pirates batters, a franchise record

52 — Players used, most in team history

8 — Catchers used, most since 1914

8 — Pitchers used in the game Sept. 18 against Dodgers, a franchise record

1.9 million — Expected final home attendance, second-highest since PNC Park opened in 2001

1.02 — Points the team ERA dropped from last year, the biggest improvement in the majors

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